Culture

No, “White Student Unions” Aren’t Suddenly Cropping Up At Australian Universities

Don't feed the trolls.

Over the last week or so, several Facebook pages purporting to represent “white student unions” have begun doing the rounds on social media. The pages, which style themselves with titles like ‘University of Queensland White Student Union’, began about a week ago and have attracted a pretty significant backlash from students, as well as some messages of support from pages like the United Patriots Front.

While the UQ one is the most prominent, pages claiming to represent students at Macquarie Uni, UNSW, UTS, the University of Western Australia and the University of Southern Queensland have cropped up too.

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The pages have also attracted the ire of university administrations; UQ released a statement saying they “thoroughly condemn any attempt to undermine the importance of fostering an equitable society, both on campus and more broadly,” while Macquarie University has asked for images of the campus and references to the uni’s name be removed from the ‘MU White Student Union’ page, and threatened legal action.

But before you get too worried about the state of Australian unis, it’s worth noting that it’s extremely unlikely any of these pages are run by students at those universities, or even by Australians. Since November 20, a similar and much larger wave of ‘white student union’ Facebook pages have been set up for dozens of American universities, all purporting to represent aggrieved white students on campus. As has been reported by multiple American outlets, this apparent rash of white supremacy on campuses in multiple countries turns out to be a hoax perpetrated by the usual chronically weird and sad corners of the internet  — places like 4chan, 8chan and white supremacist message boards.

Over the last few weeks, posts on sites like neo-Nazi hate group The Daily Stormer have urged users to create fake ‘white student group’ pages for various universities, especially liberal ones, in the hope that the subsequent media coverage will exacerbate racial tensions.

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“You can make a burner gmail by using a burner app and then it’s easy to create a burner facebook,” an 8chan user is quoted in the Daily Beast as writing. “I’ve created three and another NRx guy has created 2.”

It doesn’t help that news outlets like ABC and Yahoo 7 have breathlessly reported on these pages as though they represent something genuine, seemingly without doing enough research to realise how paper-thin they really are. The ABC even misquoted a UQ press release, writing that “the university said the page appeared to be part of a larger trend that has spread from North America”.

That makes it sound like white students everywhere are suddenly jumping on board the White Supremacy Train, but what the University of Queensland actually said was this: “No ‘white student union’ exists at UQ. Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Academic) Professor Joanne Wright said the page appeared to be part of a hoax that had spread from North America, where dozens of similar pages had appeared, each claiming affiliation with university communities.”

So while groups like Reclaim Australia, the UPF and whatever incarnation of One Nation’s currently doing the rounds are genuine things to worry about, so-called ‘white student unions’ aren’t. Relax, and don’t feed the trolls.